(Translated from Romanian by Mihaela Alecu. For Romanian press here)
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When the troops of the secret police knocked at my gate, I knew I was doomed. I was aware that this would happen, sooner or later. And yet it was happening today. Precisely tonight, when we were supposed to celebrate… in normal conditions… Yesterday the king left the country; he was forced to abdicate, better said. Lucky me I wasn’t at the Palace, otherwise I would have been immediately arrested. Now I have to run. To hide. If it is still possible…
I’m running towards the attic without taking anything with me, not even the small suitcase, except for the little money I had in the house. The jewelry and other valuables were already hidden, only my wife knows were. Most certainly she will need it. You can never know what times will come, but definitely not good ones. The terror established for a few years, progressively, cannot bring anything else but a rule of terror. The dust in the attic makes my nostrils tickle, if only I wouldn’t sneeze. I built a small temporary hideaway, in one of the chimneys. I sneak inside and carefully close the well camouflaged door.
I can hear them shouting, poking about, running all around. What about here? asks one of them with an edgy tone. The attic… faintly answered my wife. I will file a complaint. You have no right. He hasn’t done anything wrong… Really, then why did he run away? the voice shouted at her. The attic’s door opened with a stroke. Violence… Absurd and total lack of respect… While they are searching for me, quarrying the attic, the thought crosses my mind that it is better that we didn’t get to have children. I’m holding my breath. They would have been the last thing missing from this picture which seems almost surreal, but, unfortunately, is as real as it gets.
In the end, they decided to leave. Don’t worry, we’ll find him; I can almost see his roughneck grin. After the front door closes, my wife starts crying. I can hear her from here. I should stay hidden a while longer, to make sure they’ve left, but I cannot. I have to climb down, to calm her down, and to hold her in my arms. But what could I do to comfort her, when we both know our future ends here?
After a few days of not leaving the house, always with one foot on the start line of my running path, waking, anxious, I decided it was too dangerous to stay there any longer. They would have eventually tracked me down, and I would have gotten to jail, if anywhere. I’ve heard about the beatings in arrest, many couldn’t handle them. So here I am.
At this point my friend stopped talking (I shall call him Constantin A. for everybody’s safety), the young man who had recently been made captain by King Mihai himself, fighter and survival of World War II, a trusted friend, cultivated, who spoke fluently several foreign languages, a hero with whom we should have pride ourselves with, now at his last shift, hounded by the new ruling who wanted his head because he had defended his country and his king, and because he was part of the military elite, which lessened each day, just like the cultural elite, the medical elite and so on. It was like a catastrophe which spread across the country. It hadn’t yet reached here, the countryside, where I had retreated for a while. For now no danger threatened me, I wasn’t a public figure, I was practically nobody, and for the first time I was happy about it. That is why I decided, without hesitation, to hide him.
Constantin A. gave me all the money he had taken. I don’t need them in the cellar anyway, he told me, and moreover, I want to help you as much as I can, so that you can help me as well. It is not too much, he continued, but it will be enough for a while. Afterwards… Don’t worry, I told him, we will manage!
My grandparents’ house, a massive hose, as they used to make back in the days in Ardeal, was fitted with a huge cellar as well. We decided to build in the most hidden part, far away from the last window, to build a small room and a quasi-toilet. I won’t be able to provide more comfort, I told him, but let’s hope it is not going to be for long. So be it, he said, but there didn’t seem to be any hope in his voice. We started working right away, using rocks from the river we built a wall, which we afterwards fitted with another mask, shelves on which we placed all sort of tools, so that no one would ever suspect that there was another room beyond the wall. Raids are often organized and it is better not to take any risks; housing a refugee is a “deed”, it’s illegal and harshly punished. Especially, as rumor has it, since the mountains guerilla started to cave in, and the opponents, caught. We shook hands and he thanked me again. Then I built in whatever contact he had with the exterior, namely any possibility they might have had to catch him.
For his procurement, I built a small elevator, manually operated, of course, which descended and ascended on an air shaft, from top to bottom. In the room I covered the little door, it was painted the same color as the wall, it was perfectly camouflaged so it couldn’t be spotted not even if I would have left it as such, but, for more safety, I covered it with a painting. Through there I sent him water and, three times a day, food – in the morning after seven, before I left for school, were I specialized as a Math teacher, lunch around three, and dinner around nine. I used the same channel to send him books, news from his wife, the latter rarely, because her home was continuously under surveillance. I used an entire network of friends to send her the message “Constantin is well. He loves you!” because I couldn’t go visit her myself, for obvious reasons, I would go to a friend, tell him I had received a letter from Constantin – I always said I was burning the letters immediately after receiving them – friend number one, went to friend number two, who went to friend number three and only this one – more often than not G.’s wife, very close to the family and a childhood friend of Constantin’s wife (many times I would even use more intermediary friends, to entangle even more the path) – would go to her with news, which were every time the same, I would only change the city where I had received it from, especially at first, when he was supposed to settle in a democratic country – he is in Hungary, he reached Czechoslovakia, where he needs to hide for a few weeks, he wrote from Germany, he is headed to France and he will stay there. Constantin had reached, not without crying, this decision, it was better not to expose his wife by telling her the truth. I agreed.
Constantin was far away from the real world. I was his only contact with the outside. He lived in the den were the Sun never shined; at first he used to read the newspapers, but now he refused them. And yet he wasn’t depressed, he still had faith, at least that was my feeling, from up there. Then it occurred to me. In order to help him to handle better the time passing, I thought about tricking him, if I can put it that way. I started by bringing his meals five minutes later. I composed a calendar parallel to the normal one, according to his time. When I reached one hour difference, I settled for almost a week or two, to give his body time to get used to the new day length. This way, the twenty four hour day, became for him a twenty five hour day. Afterwards, twenty six hours. This time I kept the length for almost three weeks. Then I prolonged the minutes, four instead of five, at first, and then three. When his day was, without him knowing, almost 30 hours long, I kept it like this for almost a month and a half. Anyway, during the first year, theoretically, I speared him of more daunting days. This encouraged me enough to continue.
I followed this method until I managed to double his day. Then I stopped. More could have been noticeable. I had risked a lot already and I did not know what he was going to make out of it. After all, I had lied to him every day, even though all my sweat was for his benefit. I thought that it might be easier to deal with three years of imprisonment than with six. The important thing was that he will believe, that he will know, that he will feel, that there were three, not six.
Meanwhile, he had been trailed; the sentence was as cruel and unjust as it could be: death penalty. Until Nicolae Ceausescu came to power and until his decree abolished the many absurd death punishments sentenced in the 50’s- 60’s Constantin continued to hide in my cellar. We thought it was time for him to get out. But when we heard about friends who had came out or who had returned to the country and were immediately arrested, we both decided, that coming out was not an option. Anyway, meanwhile, he had informed his wife he would grant her the divorce if she would ask for it, but she didn’t want to hear about it. She sent him the message that she will wait for him. Unfortunately she did not managed to do so, because in 1980 she passed away, in her rudimentary studio, which she received in exchange for their two floor house situated in the center of Cluj… Constantin got the news resigned, but sometimes I thought I heard him cry through the thick walls of the house.
Only on 22th of December 1989, after we made sure that he was really safe, Constantin finally came out of the cellar. The artificial light had saved his eyes, but the lack of sun had whitened his skin, which seemed almost translucent. The first thing he did was hug me, with tears in his eyes. Then he wanted to take a bath. He fixed himself up, then the village barber cut his hair and shaved him. I realized it right away. This is my gift to you, I whispered, for all the sufferance you had to take. He looked himself in the mirror, then he looked at me. Although we were born in the same year, he looked twenty years younger than me. And, in fact, he really was.